Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
by Phyllis Root
illustrated by Betsy Bowen

I was chuckling heartily along with my daughter when I read the first book I came across that was written by Phyllis Root, "Looking for a Moose", when my daughter was just about two-ish.

And now, Plant a Pocket of Prairie gave me another way to connect with my now nine year old daughter and inspire her to preserve what's left of our natural environment.

What is a prairie? Most of us know it as the open grasslands of the Mississippi river valley where flora and fauna of all sorts thrive and form a tight eco-system that has been sustaining itself for years. Not many of us know that it has been dwindling steadily over the past several years.

Once prairie stretched thousands of miles... starts the book, describing the lush meadows that was home to prairie chickens and five-lined skinks among other animals and plants; and then, moves on to state that it is Almost gone now to farm and town and city, even before we knew all the things a prairie could do.

As I read the first two or three pages of the book to my kids, I noticed their squirms and wriggles of initial resistance for the subject matter. By the fourth page, they sat up and exclaimed, "I get it! We are adding on more plants and more animals are coming too!"

The book has a gentle message about bringing the prairie to life even in urban and suburban areas via careful planting and tending. Start planting "in your backyard / or boulevard / or boxes on a balcony" the book suggests in a practical way, because even small pockets of native plants can replicate the wider, larger habitat.
Plant foxglove beardtongue
A ruby-throated hummingbird
 might hover and sip and thrum.
While exotic names like foxglove beardtongue, Joe Pye weed,  and hairy mountain mint certainly kept us smiling, this is not a gardening book per se. It is rather a fanciful flight into what might be if we took a small step towards restoring the environment for the creatures whose territories we have usurped over time. From the small critters, all the way to bison will be back if they have a place to come back to.

The woodblock illustrations are beautiful, giving a back-to-nature sort of unspoiled feel as if we were in a meadow.

Back of the book has a map showing the extent of native prairie from 1847-1908, as well as the tiny blotches of its much-diminished spread as of 1987-2011. How to Plant a Pocket of Prairie section suggests various ways to explore and understand the prairie. Sometimes called "upside down forests" due to the deep roots of many prairie plants, there is more biomass underground than above ground in prairies. There is also a section devoted to the animals and plants of the prairie with brief notes about each.

While it is heartening to read the verses suggesting that planting purple coneflowers will bring Dakota skippers and swallowtails, it doesn't happen overnight. We have a few white butterflies gracing our garden (thankfully we don't have any cabbage family plants in the garden this year) and the kids know first-hand the joy it brings to them.

And, when the kids stop at our purple coneflowers in our small yard hoping to catch a glimpse of a butterfly or a bee, I am glad this book has in some small way inspired them to carry the message forward.

[Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book. But the opinions expressed here and the decision to share it here are my own.]

[image source: University of Minnesota Press]

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